Memory has long been pictured as a mark, a stored image, even a scar. But the modern search for the “engram” and the files that might house such bits of experience proves fruitless. Memory is far more active and interactive, far more lively, synthetic, and flexible than the outdated storage models suggest. Memories link past, present, and future. They presuppose a subject, yet, even as they do so, help build an identity. Memories, objectified in signs and memorials, can be shared and rendered prescriptive in shared projects and ideals. Losses to personal memory help reveal its anatomy and natural history. So do the changes we make as we recall events, facts, faces, words, enriching our memory with overtones and associations that make each occasion unique and no static sign registered at a single site in some uniform code. The work of memory depends on the constant strengthening or attrition of synaptic connections: Synapses that fire together, as they say, wire together. But human memory is never just its neural substrate. It takes full shape only in the rich texture of experience. Memory keenly reveals the dynamic interactions of body and soul, the brain and the personhood emergent in its work.
Keywords: episodic memory, the engram, neural plasticity, personal identity, collective memory, mnemonics, amnesia, long term potentiation (LTP)